Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir (2021)

Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir (2021)

Director: James Redford

A look at the life and work of author Amy Tan. – IMDB

Being best known as the author of 1989’s novel The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan has grown to become a fiction novelist who writes stories about Chinese immigrant stories and Chinese mother-daughter relationships along with their different experiences. This documentary recounts her biography as well as her writing career and how she came into writing and the inspirations behind the novels that she’s written. Using both old photos and videos as well as interviews with family members and other authors and publishers and interviews with Amy Tan herself, it forms a look at how her career started as well the inspirations from her real life as she learned more about her mother over the years of their dramatic relationship together as well as her past that crafted her into that the author that she is today. At the same time, it also pulls footage from The Joy Luck Club movie to draw certain relatable scenes.

Its hard to say whether a documentary like this is more appealing for those familiar with Amy Tan’s work and yet for myself, I’ve only ever read The Joy Luck Club and watched the film adaptation, making me not exactly knowledgeable about Amy Tan’s work either but doesn’t detract from the fact that her debut fiction novel which were quite revolutionary as a reading experience as it was relatable to a certain extent in terms of being a Chinese daughter and the relationship as well as having a family history that might seem like it was crafted as a film but actually may have been the reality for some people from the previous generations. That didn’t hinder the fact that this documentary shared much more than just her biography but through it also shared a person who found herself as an author and the consequences of her fame and the controversy of how people viewed her portrayal of both Chinese people, culture and how much of it felt like stereotypes that stemmed over the years.

What makes Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir quite a great watching experience perhaps is that Amy Tan herself is a fascinating person to watch. Her life experiences and her recounts of her relationship with her family to the discoveries that she makes as she dives into her mother’s recollection of her own experiences all opens up something new. She feels like such a down to earth person whether its her approach of how she started writing or being clear on how to not deviate from her path as an author and what she is writing. As the documentary dives between her family history and how each of these life elements come into play and how each of her published books come to view, its a great reminder that Amy Tan is much more than just her debut fiction novel The Joy Luck Club and that there’s so much more to discover.

Overall, Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir is quite a decent watch whether or not you are familiar to her work (in my opinion). Her experiences and her life is one that is full of drama and once the realization that a lot of her work is inspired by her mother’s life, it brings on a whole different meaning as she shares a bit of her own family’s history and experiences. A well-rounded documentary taking it on a biographical angle but also look at writing and the point of view of an author.

Tranquil Dreams Podcast #15: What’s Up 2021 Week 22

Welcome to the next episode of Tranquil Dreams Podcast as we dive into Week 22 of What’s Up 2021. A midweek episode, right? I told you that we’d get one out earlier than usual. Its still a little behind schedule but who else is counting but me.

This episode, we skip over reading and dive into my thoughts on the 2017 narrative game Night in the Woods as I wrap it up. I look into a suggestive sounding Hong Kong action comedy that isn’t completely what it sounds like. The last part that takes up a lot of focus is binging as I talk about a new series that I absolutely adore while sharing some thoughts on Netflix Taiwanese series Detention, Chinese high school series Please Classmate and Chinese romance drama series Love Scenery as those are finished up.

Thanks for listening and hope you enjoy!

Related Links

Detention – Film Review
Love Scenery – TV Binge
Put Your Head On My Shoulder – TV Binge
Find Yourself – TV Binge
Game Warp Blog

Music in the Episode:
There It Is by Kevin MacLeod
Link: https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/song/4519-there-it-is
License: https://filmmusic.io/standard-license

Listen to the Show:
Anchor
Spotify
Google Podcasts
Breaker
RadioPublic

TV Binge: Use For My Talent (我亲爱的小洁癖, 2021)

Use For My Talent (我亲爱的小洁癖, 2021)

Director: Cong Cai

Cast: Yue Shen, Jasper Liu, Yunfan Dai, Charles Lin, Yanan, Mengdi Su, Sirui Huang, Quan Tan, Ran Xiao

Because of his incomplete family, Gu Ren Qi has a closed up personality and mysophobia. Shuang Jiao used to have a happy family, but later lost her mother in a car accident, and became a slovenly person. The two became acquainted when Shuang Jiao becomes an employee in Gu Ren Qi’s cleaning company. The two became closer as they get to know each other. Under each other’s influence, they began to heal from their wounds. – MyDramaList

Watch on: Mango TV (Youtube & App) & Netflix

Use For My Talent is a Chinese adpatation of 2018 Korean series Clean With Passion For Now. Let’s just get this out of the way right now that I’m not a big fan of Korean series so I usually don’t go and watch them so I haven’t seen the original of this series. However, Use For My Talent landing on Netflix was such a treat although it does have Shen Yue who is on another Netflix series, Meteor Garden (a Mainland China modernized remake of the 2001 Taiwanese series both directed by the same director Angie Chai) and Jasper Liu in Taiwanese Netflix series Triad Princess and Korean/Taiwanese collaborated variety/travel show Twogether (review). These two main cast members are no doubt talented in their own regards and great to see them together especially as Jasper Liu seems to have moved his focus into Mainland Chinese series now and making a more frequent appearance.

Running at 24 episodes (my favorite length for these types of romantic comedy-drama series), Use For My Talent is a fun one to watch. There’s a good balance of humor, drama and romance that blends together to create this one. It does get a little peculiar in parts but the characters are done pretty well. Not only the main couple, Ren Qi and Shuang Jiao is fun to watch but the two other supporting/secondary couples are also very fun to watch and each having their own dynamic which gives a good variety. Plus, it takes time to look at mysophobia that Ren Qi has and dives into that angle to give it its own drama moments but also using it as some parts of humor especially when encountered with his polar opposite Shuang Jiao who opens up his eyes to slowly accepting the world and treatment to be able to get closer to her. I’m sure some of this stuff is either exaggerated or simplified for the drama’s purpose but it does expose an element of this phobia which leads to using the cleaning company while having a focus on how technology can’t necessarily replace the human element of some services.

Having touched on it a little before, the characters here are absolutely a treat. The main leads played by Shen Yue and Jasper Liu are really great. Shen Yue is probably one of my top favorite young actresses in the last few years as most of her series and roles have been both fun and believeable especially as she gradually moves into TV series set outside of the school setting. I’ve seen most of her shows (even if I never got around to the review). She has this natural and down to earth essence to her that makes her really believable in her roles and carries the emotions really well. The same applies for Use For My Talent where she plays as Shuang Jiao and the character is pretty decent. Funny how things turn around as this show adapts from a Korean series and earlier this year, Korea adapted a Chinese series that was her debut role in A Love So Beautiful (review). On the other hand, as popular as Jasper Liu is, I haven’t seen him outside of two variety shows but there’s something about him that is very charming and he does have pretty good acting skills as well. The chemistry between the two worked really well and came off fairly natural even by the end when he would do the very sappy/cringy sweet talk. It was hard to not cringe but also secretly like it just a little especially as it was a nod to a conversation from a prior part of the series.

Of course the series isn’t just about them but also has some colorful characters. Another couple is RenQi’s assistant DongXian who is very slow and unromantic but ends up with a popular lifestyle streamer QianQian. They are a little fun to watch especially since DongXian’s character is rather hilarious overall but has a little bit of a sad backstory (like a lot of the main cast). Aside from them is ShuangJiao’s little brother JunJie who ends up chasing up her sister’s best friend Yan who has their own sweet moments. The process for both of these having a similar dynamic but pretty funny and entertaining. No series is complete without some sort of love triangle and that brings in Yunfan Dai’s character Lu Xian, a psychiatrist that recently returned to China for 2 purposes: one to repay a debt that ShuangJiao’s mom offered him at a young age (which leads him to falling for her) and the second to act as the consultant for RenQi’s phobia and hopefully control and cure him to a certain extent. His character is pretty decent as well. In most Chinese series, family is also a big part and here the two leads family can be considered opposites of each other and on one side very comedic in dynamic and on the other side, very strict and maybe a little intentionally frustrating.

If there was something to nitpick a little, it definitely would be regarding the choice of melodrama that they used to break the two apart which is an inevitable part of these series but how is always where it works or doesn’t. What they used is always a frustrating choice although props to the two leads for being able to create some genuine sad feelings for this break-up.

Overall, Use For My Talent is an absolute treat. In terms of pacing, comedy and romance, everything works really well. The ending is a little odd with the whole melodrama but thanks to well-connected characters, despite the situation set up, they still manage to carry through the heartwrenching breakup feeling between the two. Its a rather impressive one which highlights some of the talent in the Chinese market.

With all that said, next mission…catch up on Jasper Liu’s series. Anyone have suggestions from the Netflix available ones? Please let me know.

TV Binge: Love Death & Robots (Volume 2, 2021)

Love Death & Robots (Volume 2, 2021)

Creator: Tim Miller

A collection of animated short stories that span various genres including science fiction, fantasy, horror and comedy. – IMDB

The first season of Love Death and Robots (podcast discussion) was an absolute treat with its 18 episodes or so and having a variety of different short films that explores the three themes: Love, Death and Robots. Thinking back to it now, there are still many segments that are memorable. In comparison, the second season is much shorter running at a swift 8 episodes with some stories feeling more familiar however, the animation style has shifted to some refined visuals that for some almost look real and also, some unique animation art style. The stories itself also has overlapping themes in some in some interesting settings.

Anthology volumes are always going to have hit and miss. The good news is that the second volume of Love Death & Robots is overall pretty good with some segments landing better than others but nothing that is lackluster. Looking at more specific segments, the art style and story of a few do stand out like the horror creature feature of The Tall Grass which had painting-like illustrations or Ice with its world building and comic book/graphic novel illustration style that brings in creative designs and a outer space setting with normal humans being in a world of modded humans. There’s also a Christmas short All Through The House which has its characters almost like dolls while playing with who Santa is and leaving it with a rather troubling question.

In terms of overall stories that seem to be a great basis for a bigger scale movie to some kind of full-length feature, some of these definitely have the basis and foundation for it. Coincidentally, these also have some good voice cast behind it and some more renowned names. The first, of course is for Pop Squad which sets up a future where humans have traded the rights to have children for living forever and being young forever also where having children is now a crime and when found, said children will be killed in order to maintain the population balance. Its a well-structured story with a lot more to explore especially when its voice cast includes Nolan North and Elodie Young. Much like Snow in the Desert which also has a barren wasteland setting and manages to blend all three themes of this volume together.

Two other ones well worth mentioning is the starting episode and the final one which both contrast from the rest of the series in tone. The first called Automated Customer Service carries in a different setting of a futuristic senior residence where a cleaning robot goes rogue and packed with a comedic element mocking the future of automated customer service. Its one that sets an upbeat yet sinister tone but is rather entertaining overall and pretty fun. The final episode, The Drowned Giant is a slow-paced one that leaves room for reflection on humanity in general as it circles around the discovery and gradual deterioration of a drowned giant washed ashore with a monologue from the scientist that observes it over time. Its one that might not fit the general one of the entire volume but does end with a more meaningful and thought-provoking point.

Overall, the second volume/season of Love Death and Robots is a pretty good one. Most of them are well worth a watch and each have their own value whether from visuals and art style to storytelling and world building. It is a short season but one that is still bingeworthy.

Army of the Dead (2021)

Army of the Dead (2021)

Director (and writer): Zack Snyder

Cast: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Matthias Schweighofer, Nora Arnezeder, Garret Dillahunt, Tig Notaro, Raul Castillo, Theo Rossi, Hiroyuki Sanada

Following a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, a group of mercenaries take the ultimate gamble, venturing into the quarantine zone to pull off the greatest heist ever attempted. – IMDB

After years of making DC Universe movies and a multitude of genres in film, both good and bad in my opinion, Zack Snyder’s latest offering held some high anticipation as he goes back to his roots as his directorial debut 2004’s Dawn of the Dead (review) was a highlight in his filmography. Running at 2 hours and 28 minutes, Army of the Dead is a long zombie movie. It has a few angles to the film as a heist film and zombie film. It packs in action instead of scares. In some ways, the best comparison at the beginning section would be comparing it to the Train to Busan sequel Peninsula (review) however, the films takes a rather different trajectory past gathering a team to pick up goods in a zombie infested land. What deserves a mention is that Snyder takes on not only the director’s seat but also wrote the story and also is the cinematographer. With that said, Army of the Dead’s biggest issue, among a few other issues, is mostly pacing-related, which is expected with the runtime. Some other issues are related to sequence of events that are fairly familiar and doesn’t offer enough uniqueness to make it stand out more.

Army of the Dead does have some good points. There are some individual elements that do work. The first is the introduction of the zombie tiger design which shows up a few times as a threat and also giving mention to a famous Las Vegas reference relating to Seigfried and Roy’s tigers. Both the design and the story of the tiger does add to the story especially as it mostly acts as an additional threat that paces through the outside areas whenever the team needs to go there. Along the lines of visuals, Snyder does offer some good cinematography. The best ones coming from the overhead shots of Las Vegas as the camera pans through the area from above. The wide shots create a good atmosphere of the wasteland that Las Vegas has become and the area that the team needs to trek and survive through. Aside from that, the most satisfying part of the film is the opening 20 minutes or so when the scenario is set by how the zombie is released and where its from and how the city gets infected and followed through right away with a montage of the key characters during the apocalypse and how they help create the blocked off city that they currently reside in before hitting things off to where the characters are and they job that they are being offered. With that said, a big part of the opening sequence is the soundtrack which carries throughout the film as a good cue on creating somewhat of a comedic break here and there.

With that said, Army of the Dead is the most engaging in its first 30 minutes as everything gets set into place with both the characters and the zombie apocalypse. However, once the heist mission starts, things start slowing down in pacing quite a bit. The story jumps between the heist and the smart zombie lore. These two portions have both its pros and cons. In terms of the heist, it does have some action and as with a wide array of characters making up this somewhat ragtag team, it creates both comedy and hidden agendas, most of which are fairly predictable and outlined fairly early on what’s to happen. However, the safecracker Dieter (Matthias Schweighofer), helicopter pilot Peters (Tig Notaro) and former mercenary Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick) are probably the main highlights of the story as they add whether in humor or awkward moments. While these are exactly the main character as Dave Bautista is the main person, there are just so many characters that sometimes his character, adding into the drama with his daughter and the other members all seem to lose the charm or depth. On the other hand, the smart zombie lore isn’t exactly unseen as the Living Dead series also features smart zombies and the angle they take here with the alpha and queen is a decent angle and yet, it seems to lose its direction very quickly as it turns more into a revenge hunt down which loses the depth into expanding on that side of the lore, even the “twist” was fairly easy to figure out from one of the earlier scenes.

Overall, Army of the Dead is a fairly lackluster film. The pacing does it in a lot where the length doesn’t add to the story but does more harm. It becomes a tiring sort of watch that doesn’t seem to give enough to create the foundation of building up both the world or the zombies or even the characters. It seems harsh but the best part of the movie was the first 30 minutes which probably created disappointment when it becomes a realization that the tone shifts from that opening sequence drastically once the heist actually starts. With that said, I do have a love/hate relationship with Snyder’s films where a few of his early films work for me while his newer films have had the same issues of pacing and plot. Army of the Dead falls in line as Snyder’s director trademarks are very apparent here and done well and yet, the sum of those parts aren’t enough to make up for the rest of it.

Double Feature: My Beautiful Broken Brain (2014) & Why Did You Kill Me? (2021)

Welcome to the next documentary double feature! Documentaries are definitely a little more frequently showing up here as I’ve been interested in checking out more of these especially the ones related to crimes and such. The first is 2014’s The Beautiful Broken Brain is not crime-related but a personal journey and the second is this year’s Why Did You Kill Me about a family’s journey to hunt down the killer of their family member after her death in a drive-by shooting.

Let’s check it out!

My Beautiful Broken Brain (2014)

Director: Sophie Robinson & Lotje Sodderland

MY BEAUTIFUL BROKEN BRAIN is 34 year old Lotje Sodderland’s personal voyage into the complexity, fragility and wonder of her own brain following a life changing hemorrhagic stroke. Regaining consciousness to an alien world – Lotje was thrown into a new existence of distorted reality where words held no meaning and where her sensory perception had changed beyond recognition. This a story of pioneering scientific research to see if her brain might recover – with outcomes that no one could have predicted. It is a film about hope, transformation and the limitless power of the human mind. – IMDB

Documentaries like My Beautiful Broken Brain is not usually my go to however, the premise of this documentary is quite fascinating to watch as it shows the sudden changes that can happen in terms of health to anyone and how her journey is different as she has to embrace a changed world and her path of recovery. For a documentary about a girl who loses quite a bit due to the hemorrhagic stroke, its actually executed in a fairly positive way and sends out a positive message about how we should view our own life whether its about hope or not taking things for granted.

The execution of the film is done a good portion with videos filmed by Lotje Sodderland which builds up on her personal journey through her own recovery from her own feelings and the different steps she takes in order to embrace this “distorted reality”. Its truly hard to imagine what she went through especially when the most basic abilities are striped away through on incident. The execution builds from the start of how Sodderland ends up the way she is described from herself and her family and the reality that she now faces, outlining the effects the stroke had on her brain. As she moves forward, she compares her world to David Lynch’s work and hence her will to document what has happened to her and the journey of her recovery to eventually meet him. In the world of medicine and science, there isn’t really a lot of guarantees especially facing anything with the brain and perhaps that’s the takeaway here as this is a never seen before (or at least rarely seen) especially hard to watch when it gets into the neurological experiment bit.

In some ways, My Beautiful Broken Brain reminded me in premise of 2005’s Japanese TV series 1 Litre of Tears that was based on the true story of Aya Kito who suffered a rare brain degenerative disease and had documented it in her own diary. Where that one brings forth a lot of sorrow, My Beautiful Broken Brain has a lot of heart-wrenching moments but it makes the supposedly successes truly shine through. Its a little scary to watch that the senses and abilities that we use everyday is diminished to being unrecognizable. Overall, The Beautiful Broken Brain is decently executed and offers up a lot of information and a very personal journey that shares both a positive message about hope but also reminds us how lucky we all are to be able to do everyday things like reading and writing.

Why Did You Kill Me? (2021)

Director: Fredrick Munk

The line between justice and revenge blurs when a devastated family uses social media to track down the people who killed 24-year-old Crystal Theobald. – IMDB

Social media and technology has been a huge basis on how crimes are solved on a lot of the recent Netflix crime documentaries. In some ways, perhaps Why Did You Kill Me feels a little lesser in terms of the depth of the case itself as it somehow loses the depth of the topics that it can go. This one focuses primarily on the case on hand and following the footsteps of finding who is involved and why it happened. It also is one of the few where for the most part, the ending is relatively resolved and not exactly some form of call for action.

Why Did You Kill Me takes the angle of a family that wants to find the killer and using the help of a young cousin on Myspace to reach out to different gang members of the suspected gang involved and finding the clues to narrow down who it is and what happened after showing signs of not trusting the police. As much as the documentary is about solving the crime, its more about the line between justice and revenge.

Between interviews and crime scene restructures with minimized scenes, the whole crime is shown in a good detail as it goes from its suspect to exploring the involvement of family members and their own backstory. The crime documentary starts off rather solid because it focuses on the whole early days of Myspace and how eventually it turned into a very extreme way of using the victim’s picture to build the online profile which does end up attracting the person involved. The whole investigation circles around a lot of the same motions and that’s where the pacing of the documentary does feel sometimes like it lacks the content as a full length feature. Its not saying that this case isn’t worth shining light on as the final note on justice and revenge is pretty decent.

TV Binge: Julie and the Phantoms (Season 1, 2020)

Julie and the Phantoms (Season 1, 2020)

Creators: Dan Cross & David Hoge

Cast: Madison Reyes, Charlie Gillespie, Owen Joyner, Jeremy Shada, Jadah Marie, Sacha Carlson, Savannah Lee May, Carlos Ponce, Booboo Stewart, Sonny Bustamante, Cheyenne Jackson

Julie is a teenage girl who finds her passion for music and life with the help of a high -concept band of teen boys (The Phantoms) who have been dead for 25 years. Julie, in turn, helps them become the band they were never able to be. – IMDB

Based on the Brazilian TV series Julie e os Fantasmas, Julie and the Phantoms is a musical comedy drama that tells the story of a girl who is able to make 3 teenage ghosts that died 25 years ago visible to everyone whenever they play music together and hence brought about the their band, Julie and the Phantoms. Running at 9 episodes, there’s a lot to love about Julie and the Phantoms whether from the teenage content or the ghost element and especially the musical and band elements. There’s a little bit of romance, family and friendship and talks about loss and dreams and finding the courage to face it all. All in all, Julie and the Phantoms might have some plot points that seem a tad far-fetched but overall, its feel-good element really lands on such positive notes making it quite a binge-worthy experience.

Looking at the young cast, they are all fairly new to acting. With a lot of musical sort of shows or movies, it has a little overacting element however, the band when with each other feels mostly like the characters do fit themselves. The main actress is Madison Reyes who plays Julie, a girl trying to embrace music again after her mother’s passing. Trying to balance being okay for her family and  having the courage to follow her dreams with the help of the band, Madison Reyes does a really good job capturing the role and also showing her musical talents of singing. Playing opposite her are the 3 ghost boys from the Sunset Curve: Luke (Charlie Gillespie), Alex (Owen Joyner) and Reggie (Jeremy Shada),who have personalities that balance each other which makes each of them stand out and each having their own issues although this season was mostly focused on Luke and building up the chemistry he has with Julie. An overall success for the two as they have some great moments together which is not physical but just through looks and conversation.

The story and the narrative does a good layout for the first season. It gives a good foundation and lays out the scene for both the key characters of Julie and her high school scene along with her family and also, gives a look at the ghost side of things and how this world’s ghosts work (which takes a twist at the finale and gives a set up for the second season). In terms of the songs, every episode has at least one musical offering which aligns with the plot and mostly is fun and positive sort of songs especially with its lyrics. They each have their own fun and are pretty catchy overall.

Overall, Julie and the Phantoms for the first season is a fun show. As a teen show, its pretty good. There are some issues probably in terms of over the top acting in certain parts but its feel-good elements and the fun and catchy songs does cover over a lot of its flaws. It does help that I’m a big fan of these types of shows plus its well-paced and the episodes are relatively short so the first season is definitely a breeze to binge. Definitely one that comes highly recommended for myself (seeing as I’ve rewatched the season a few times at this point since its launch and enjoy it equally as much every time) especially for fans of teen shows and musicals. With that said, I can’t wait for the second season whenever it will be released.

Double Feature: Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel (2021) & Don’t F*ck With Cats (2019)

Welcome to the next double feature! This time is a little different as I get the reviews for documentary mini-series out of the way. Being mini-series, it technically should be in its own segment as TV binges but Letterboxd categorized them as movies so here we are! The first is Crime Scene: The Vanishing at Cecil Hotel which is rather new as its a 2021 Netflix documentary and the other is Don’t F*ck With Cats: Hunting Down an Internet Killer from 2019, also a Netflix documentary. Let’s check it out!

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at The Cecil Hotel (Mini-series, 2021)

College student and tourist Elisa Lam vanishes, leaving behind all of her possessions in her hotel room. The Cecil Hotel grows in infamy. – IMDB

*Originally posted on Friday Film Club on Movies and Tea*

Crime Scene: The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel is a 2021 American docu-series about the vanishing and death of Elisa Lam at the Cecil Hotel. Separated into 4 episodes, it takes a look at the beginning, progression and finale of Elisa Lam’s vanishing and what happens. At the same time, its not only about the mystery but also about the investigation process and the involvement of web sleuths after the elevator surveillance tape was released online as well as the history of the Cecil Hotel from its early days until the present.

The documentary itself definitely has some good and bad elements. On one hand, the history of the Cecil Hotel and the area that it resides it adds a lot of knowledge. As the case builds from the one event, it digs up the horrors of the hotel and the dangerous people that lived there and how the hotel ended up with these residents. Through the interviews of the past manager, the past residents and the investigators of the case, it adds in a lot of perspective that feels like tangents to the mystery the the documentary focuses around but actually gives it a lot of foundation.

The mystery itself is done well enough. In some ways, it actually feels like the historical information about the hotel actually sometimes outshines the case itself mostly because the case itself uses a narrator as a voice-over reading Elisa Lam’s online entries and thoughts and plays it out in a blurry image while also adding in some of the real footage from the news and the investigation. The case is rather mysterious especially with the elevator surveillance tape that gets released and web sleuths who try to decipher this footage and all the questions that it raises. Ever since Don’t F*ck With Cats docu-series was released, web sleuths seems to be a hot commodity to add into mysteries, perhaps more pushed forward by the fact that Unsolved Mysteries have been revived on Netflix as well.

For this docu-series, where it does falls short is that it never really pinpoints a solid direction in execution and sometimes feels like it wants to touch on too many different issues from online bullying, mental illness, Cecil Hotel, who is at fault, etc. All these issues are big things to talk about and yet, the big points of mental illness, which should have been the focus didn’t have as much time to dive into, since that should have been the big takeaway from this one. However, at the end of the day, for those unfamiliar with Elisa Lam’s case and the Cecil Hotel, it is a rather fascinating one in terms of the information that it offers.

Don’t F*ck With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer (Mini-series, 2019)

A group of online justice seekers track down a guy who posted a video of himself killing kittens. – IMDB

Don’t F*ck With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer is a 4 episode mini docu-series on Netflix that highlights the trek of web sleuths tracing down a kitten killer after releasing a brutal video which leads to a bigger case which involved the killing of young man filmed and released to the public as well. Its hard to talk about Don’t F*ck With Cats being the main reason that it follows a case that is tracked down to a killer located in Montreal, a city that I personally grew up in. The places this killer frequented and lived are areas familiar to myself and for that, its one of the reasons that makes this documentary probably one that hits a lot harder especially the unsettling feeling that unspeakable things could be happening all around us and no one ever really knows. I’m not naive to believe that that isn’t that case, but watching something like this definitely brings that out.

With that said, Don’t F*ck With Cats on one hand is well-executed as a documentary. It starts off focusing heavily on web sleuths and the power of the Internet that pretty much using the right avenues, you can probably track down anything. Other than the very disturbing video of the kitten killings, the web sleuths part actually is an entertaining and intriguing as the community comes together but also leads up to a conclusive thought at the end that gives the viewers a final question to ponder on whether they were the push that caused the killer to elevate to bigger crimes. I’m getting ahead of myself but the idea of this hunt moving between the Internet killers and how it tracks from a single video to eventually being able to pinpoint a location by the end and eventually provide information to the police to hopefully help with their investigation is a fascinating sort of journey as it also parallels with the inevitable focus on the crimes of Luka Magnotta. There are also uses of videos from when the investigation was going on and such which always adds to documentaries.

To be honest, Don’t F*ck With Cats is a really good documentary. On one hand, its one to definitely watch as its focus on web sleuths and the power of Internet is quite intriguing and triumphant for the most part for what they were able to discover however, on the other hand, its also a disturbing case and one that should be highlighted but then as Luka Magnotta is still alive, it almost seems unfair to bring him that spotlight given the information even though the show does make a good point to give space for friends of his human victim to talk about this person whose life was ended so young. In some ways, while the case revolves around the killer and proves how the Internet is a powerful tool when used correctly. The biggest takeaway is that the Internet is great in some ways and also horrible in other ways. The openness of it brings on its own consequences and in the end, that message is shown clearly giving the documentary a good amount to ponder on.

A Week Away (2021)

A Week Away (2021)

Director: Roman White

Cast: Kevin Quinn, Bailee Madison, Jahbril Cook, Kat Conner Sterling, Sherri Shepherd, David Koechner, Iain Tucker

Nowhere left to go, Will Hawkins finds himself at camp for the first time. His instinct is to run, but he finds a friend, a father figure and even a girl who awakens his heart. Most of all, he finally finds a home. – IMDB

It sure seems like Netflix has been getting in on the musicals sort of film and TV. Whether we talk about The Prom (review) or Julie and the Phantoms, its been releasing some decent ones. A Week Away is a Christian musical which sets its story a week away at church camp for a runaway guy who has landed in his latest foster home after stealing a police car and faces with possibly juvenile prison if it doesn’t pan out. As he finds more friends and a sense of belonging and guidance, he starts to reconnect with himself and with his faith.

Having not known beforehand that this is considered a Christian musical and not exactly the religious type myself, A Week Away actually was better than I expected as the addition of its religion and faith wasn’t pushing too hard and the story and music does blend into the scenario, making it feel more like a coming of age teen story very similar to High School Musical right down to the music. Plus, the story gets right down to the plot and kicking off both the camp and the characters with an musical number. The music and the choreography is pretty good overall. The story is a tad predictable and very basic and straightforwars but still acceptable.

Where A Week Away starts to have most of its issues are with the script and acting. While musicals do tend to have a level of overacting, the script here sometimes feels a tad choppy. It focuses a lot on the different activities at this camp and the different teams as well as the different friendships and relationships which is unfolding over the course of one week only. On one side, its fun because of the different activities but it sometimes feels like its missing some depth as well. The younger cast definitely is missing a little something in their roles where sometimes it seems to fit with their character and sometimes, its still not quite there.

Overall, A Week Away is an okay musical. There are some fun moments and the whole musical elements are done well enough however the story itself is a little lacking and familiar. The story itself falls into formulaic territory even though the story does have a heartwarming message in the end especially when it doesn’t push the religion and faith part too hard and actually does have a decent flow.

Despite all this, on a personal level, this worked probably better because it reminded myself of a summer when I did join church fellowship with my cousin when I was younger and that was pretty fun. It was able to bring the themes of friendships and sense of belonging alive which is something that I do like about the film.

Run (2020)

Run (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Aneesh Chaganty

Cast: Sarah Paulson, Kiera Allen, Pat Healy, Erik Athavale, Sara Sohn, BJ Harrison

A homeschooled teenager begins to suspect her mother is keeping a dark secret from her. – IMDB

There always seems to be this focus on mother-daughter relationships and a fascination on these movies being chosen by Netflix (thinking back to the sci-fi Netflix film, I Am Mother (review)). Run focuses its main premise around a teenager, Chloe and her mom, Diane. Chloe is a girl that survived at birth but is ridden with a full bill of medical issues from asthma to being paralyzed in her legs. Despite that, she looks forward to her freedom when she gets to finally leave home and go to college however, its then that she starts something suspicious of her mom and starts to look deeper into it.

The movies focus on the two main characters and the build-up of how their relationship evolves over the course of the film is done fairly well. Plus, it also sees each of these characters’ development. All these are definitely strengths of the film especially when it gives the mom character played by the talented Sarah Paulson, who showed us how creepy she can be when she was in Netflix show, Ratched. Paired up with a younger actress Keira Allen, who does hold her own. The two play well off of each other. The scope of the film really is a focus on 2 characters and their confined life and routine that it actually makes it all the more engaging to watch how Chloe will react when she realizes the secrets and the changes she goes through.

The script isn’t exactly completely original as the twist doesn’t feel as shocking as it probably could be. There are some subtle creepy moments which was probably given away if you saw the trailer, and that’s something that I dislike about Netflix when its a highlighted film and just plays the trailer on its own. The trailer gives a lot of the movie away perhaps that’s why it feels not as exciting as it should be. However, thanks to these two characters and how they are scripted, the movie does have its own tension especially as things do ramp up in a decently-paced manner. Actually the movie sets up the norm of this family rather quickly and then sets up the suspicion and kicks things off from that point on rather quickly. It all comes to a rather intense ending especially when we look at the final ending which is one that is pretty good and has decent shock value.

Overall, as I think back to Run, the movie is at its best when the characters are playing off each other. There is no doubt that Sarah Paulson’s acting and grasp of her character is fantastic. It creates this dreading feeling that she is always watching which makes everything Chloe does to figure out the mystery feel even more tense especially with all her medical issues. Despite some of these ideas feeling slightly familiar, Run is still a decent well-paced psychological thriller that is still well worth a watch.